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An Anthropocene Tale and its Writer: The Sea and Summer

The Sea and the Summer by George Turner book cover
The Sea and Summer
by George Turner
Orion SF Masterworks
384pp
19.95 AU
ISBN 9780575118690

‘I won’t live to see it, but you will!’

If spoken now, these words might be addressed by a baby boomer to a millenial. In fact they were said to me some thirty years ago. The speaker was the Australian novelist and critic George Turner. He was a small, wiry, olive-skinned man, his eyes merry behind square bifocals. Despite the warning, his tone was light and ironic. There was nothing nasty about the remark, rather a commitment to telling the truth. For some novelists, the stance could seem unbearably pretentious, or self-aggrandising. For Turner it was neither. He was a kind man in person, and gentlemanly in his manners, although he could also be ferocious, particularly when attacked.

When Turner and I had this conversation, the word Anthropocene had not been coined. The majority of politicians were ignorant of climate change, the honourable exceptions being Margaret Thatcher and Barry Jones. Yet Turner, then nearly 70, was in the process of producing a novel on that theme, The Sea and Summer. It would be celebrated internationally, variously termed the first and greatest novel of what has become a literary sub-genre. However, the book has been largely forgotten in Australia, despite its Melbourne setting. Attempts to reprint it locally have failed.

Scarcely a week now goes by without a new fiction on the theme of climate change.  Such works have been termed cli-fi, a truly appalling neologism.  To write a full survey of the field is outside the scope of a single essay. Indeed, even to consider in depth the recent Australian examples alone, such as James Bradley’s 2015 Clade, or Jane Rawson’s 2013 A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, this essay would need to be book-length. Rather I want to concentrate on The Sea and Summer and Turner himself, for the two are inextricable: the man grounded his writing in his life, even when depicting the future.

Turner, who died twenty years ago this month, was a writer of paradox.  Initially he wrote realist fiction, after serving in the army during the second world war. That phase produced five novels, of which the third, The Cupboard Under the Stairs, shared the 1962 Miles Franklin Award with Thea Astley’s The Well-Dressed Explorer. He bought a new typewriter with the award money, but found it otherwise not life-changing. In the late 1960s, he received a literary grant for Transit of Cassidy, but it did not find a publisher for some years. Instead, he changed direction, into genre, firstly as a critic. From that he blossomed into a writer of futuristic, speculative fiction, a term used in preference to sci-fi. In this essay I will simply use the abbreviation SF. The change would win him an international profile, and with The Sea and Summer, major awards in both literary and genre fiction: the South East Asian and Pacific division of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and the Arthur C. Clarke, for SF. That is rare, although Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad has just been shortlisted for the Clarke after winning the Pulitzer. Not many writers in their later careers cross genre boundaries, and seldom with such success.

It all began in depression-era Melbourne, and the pulp SF magazine Amazing Stories. Turner and his mother Ethel had relocated to Melbourne from Kalgoorlie: his father, a mining accountant, had been sacked for what would now be termed insider trading. He went west, to Perth, and never saw his family again. Ethel and the child George returned to her family, where her elder son Frank promptly disowned her. She found work as a housekeeper, boarding out George with various eccentric old ladies. Her burden was bitter resentment at her lot and she disciplined her son with violence.  That George read pulp SF, and stole change from a wealthy aunt to feed the habit, led her to beat him so badly that, as he recalled in his memoir In the Heart or in the Head: ‘It put me to bed for two days, too bruised to walk and shocked by a ferocity of rage that had been more terrifying than the pain’. The abuse did not stop him reading SF. His lost father Edgar had read Alice in Wonderland to him, to which he attributed the birth of his creative fancy. It received encouragement from Dr Alfred Floyd, the choirmaster at St Paul’s Cathedral, who read his early efforts. Floyd told Turner that he had a marvellous imagination, and should develop it. In contrast, when Ethel discovered George actually wrote SF, she thrashed him.

And a very good thing too, some might say, secure in the notion that anything arising from popular genre must be a lesser literature. It is an attitude that can be corrosive to writers. As the historian Robert Conquest, an appreciator of and anthologist of SF with Kingsley Amis, once quipped: ‘SF’s not good, they bellow till we’re deaf/ But if it’s good, why then it’s not SF.’ Once crime and historical fiction were similarly beyond redemption; now Hilary Mantel wins the Booker and Peter Temple the Miles Franklin. Only SF and to a certain extent horror, remain beyond the pale. The tendency is for SF awards to be inclusive of work from writers outside the genre, but not the reverse. And yet everyone knows the tropes of SF through screen media – Dr Who, Star Trek, and The Matrix, for starters – even if they don’t actually read it. Which leads to a paradox: if disowning scientific knowledge is contributing to the Anthropocene, then fiction concerned with an increasingly unknowable and uncertain future should be taken seriously. But even here the bias persists: if a writer dealing with climate change is associated with the literary world, their work is classified as literary fiction; if the writer comes from the genre world, their work is usually deemed unworthy.

Writers, being tricksy beasts, can confuse the issue, as with Turner’s genre and game-changing novel. It was the product of a tough and mostly lonely life. Turner, though a very private man, wrote two works of memoir: In the Heart or in the Head (1984), typically as much about SF as it was about him, and the more relaxed Off-Cuts (1986). There is also a not-uncontroversial 1999 biography, by Judith Buckrich. He was largely self-educated, having done poorly in his school finals. Thus he never went to university, then out of the reach of a family without a scholarship. Instead, he took a variety of jobs to support his writing habit, from singing waiter to nightwatchman at CUB. He read widely, learning from example and practice.  ‘Something like a quarter of a million words must have been expended in getting Young Man of Talent over its opening chapters,’ Turner wrote of his debut. He added with disarming honesty: ‘I still don’t like them.’

The hard work was also accompanied by hard living. Turner was introverted and not socially adept: repeatedly he found himself in environments where he did not fit in. He found alcohol a facilitator. Sent to Wangaratta by the Public Service, he discovered a fellow literary soul in librarian Frank Kellaway, a published writer. Kellaway encouraged Turner to finish Young Man, recommended his London agent, and the book was accepted by Cassells. It received excellent reviews if not earning beyond the advance, and became the impetus for further novels.

Throughout his writing life, certain traits were obvious in Turner’s writing. The first was his distinctive voice: he wrote plainly, eloquently, forthrightly. US editor Terry Carr flummoxed Turner by telling him that he spoke ‘just as you write, all Germanic roots and very few Latinisms’. His narratives were more character-driven than deterministically plotted. Repeatedly he set up a scenario and set his characters loose to see what would happen. Knowing from the beginning how a novel would end, he claimed, would bore him.

Other traits expressed his personality: a tendency to hector, a degree of self-loathing, and female characterization that went even beyond the great Australian misogyny. I never found him impolite to women personally, but he did use the word bitch in conversation, as when discussing Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon. It was sufficient to raise the feminist hackles: mother Ethel had plainly taken a toll. Turner admitted it: ‘her ghost forever investing my work drove me to devise the grotesque mad-matriarch figure in [his first SF novel] Beloved Son. It was unfair and brutal, but I had to be rid of her. She has not troubled me since.’

Famous last words. Turner’s second SF novel, Vaneglory would be declined by US editor David Hartwell for its misogyny. It gave Turner pause, as he wrote in In The Heart:

As a novelist I don’t pay much attention to sexist, racist, élitist and other -ist complaints; my characters are selected for the roles required by the theme, and those who dislike this are free to read those writers who run from every possible cause of reader alienation. Still, as a novelist, who would rather sell than not, I recognised that the Hartwell refusal would have some dire consequences and it did […] a smaller advance for the next novel.

Racism, for Turner, was personal. Photographs of his maternal grandmother Gill show non-European ancestry: perhaps Afro-American, like Mudrooroo. Grandma Gill claimed a Samoan gentleman several generations back. George thought it more likely to be Aboriginal, and took pride in it, without claiming privileges: he did not know for sure. DNA testing would now settle the matter, but it meant George wrote sympathetic and interesting depictions of Aboriginal people in his later novels.

As regards other races, he was a product of White Australia and his war service against the Japanese in New Guinea. Now Asian writers, such as Liu Cixin and Ted Chiang, win SF awards. In Turner’s time, they were rare in a milieu predominantly white and male. In The Sea and Summer, the old White Australian nightmare of the Yellow Peril comes true: overpopulation pressures lead to a third of Australia’s great emptiness being granted to the ‘ant-hordes of Asians’. An intense agricultural programme, including weather modification, and over-fertilisation, pollutes the artesian reservoirs. It is ever the danger of those writing about the near future to get things wrong, but in that last detail Turner was perfectly correct: artesian contamination by such means is already happening, even without fracking, something Turner did not foresee. In the novel water supplies become scarce in Australia as worldwide: ‘where expensive iceberg tows and desalination projects brought desperate economies closer to collapse’.

One final ism: from Transit of Cassidy onwards, Turner included sympathetic portrayals of homosexual men in his work. When queried, Turner told Judith Buckrich that he had known ‘men “like that” all his life’. The gossip was that Turner was gay. Despite Turner’s utter reluctance to talk about his intimate life, he told Buckrich: ‘apart from two real homo encounters as a young man (which is more than the average man will admit to though in fact it is fairly common) which involved no emotional attachment and no repetition of the activity, the thing simply wasn’t interesting’. He would admit to relations with women, casual encounters, but when the emotions got involved, disastrous.  Certainly he was homosocial, like so many Australian males, though capable of being friendly with women.

The switch to SF came as Turner’s literary career languished. Via Cassells he met John Bangsund, a sales rep for the firm. Bangsund, later a deputy editor of Meanjin, edited a fanzine, the Australian Science Fiction Review (AFSR). He asked Turner for a contribution. Turner read the magazine critically, and found fault with the reviews, written ‘by fans who knew what they liked but had no conception of critical aims and standards’. Although he had never actually written a review before, he responded with intellectual rigour and ferocity: a long essay on the perceived failings of the genre. His target was a major American novel: Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. The article made Turner’s reputation as a critic immediately, and internationally. He was not acquainted with his subjects, which caused overseas critics to soft-pedal—he said what he thought. Only when one of his targets, an English SF writer, upon introduction pointedly turned his back, did Turner realise how wounding his words could be. A few gave as good as they got. ‘I rather enjoyed our stoush,’ the late US writer Lucius Shepherd told me, ‘and I think George did too.’

ASFR and other Australian fanzines were a manifestation of an interest in SF which united clever, bookish nerds. They clumped together, united in reading. The SF community was tolerant, a broad church inclusive of the Aspergic and early transsexuals. (Sometimes too tolerant, say those who recall fan Walter Breen, married to Marion Zimmer Bradley: he was a paedophile who died in prison.) The SF fans of Australia, readers and aspiring writers, provided a milieu in which, for the first time, Turner fitted in. Fan Robin Johnson recalls Turner as: ‘profoundly shy. He would come over to my flat in St Kilda; I never went to his. We talked. He was good company: he knew a bit about everything and a lot about some things. Like beer.’

Alcohol nearly killed Turner twice, from stomach haemorrhages. When I knew him he was sober, without demons: ‘life offered wider satisfactions, and there seemed to be time to take serious interest in music, film, and theatre, all neglected for too long’. George could be seen at classical musical concerts and the theatre. He might have had a bad history with women, but it didn’t stop him enjoying the work of Ursula Le Guin, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Barbara Pym and Amy Witting, among others.

Through SF he rebuilt his literary career on the international stage. Australian SF has always had excellent connections overseas. The pulps allowed for interactivity: Turner wrote to Amazing Stories at fifteen, a typically forthright and critical letter, and had it published. Though in small numbers, Australian writers of SF sold overseas, such as A. Bertram (Bert) Chandler, a merchant sea-captain, who wrote on his voyages across the Pacific. Lee Harding (author of the influential CBC-winning novel Displaced Person) and John Baxter (now best known as a film and Francophile writer) sold stories to English markets: they also anthologized the emergent voice of Australian SF. In 1975 Australia hosted the World Science Fiction Convention, with guest of honour Le Guin. The convention has taken place here three times subsequently. The 1999 convention organisers asked Turner to be Australian Guest of Honour, to which he responded that he might not live that long. In the event he was more a Ghost of Honour, as he died in 1997.

Initially, Beloved Son was rejected as too long and too new. Turner sold it sans agent, after a holiday in England. He left the manuscript plus covering letter with Faber, a choice made on the basis of its list, which included SF writers Brian Aldiss and Christopher Priest. The book was accepted within days.  However, the move would create problems for Turner’s reception in Australia: the perennial problem of a local publisher and scant penetration overseas versus an overseas publisher and becoming an import distributed indifferently or with no enthusiasm.

I first encountered him at a Writers’ Workshop in Sydney. SF has a long history of residential writing workshops, which was exported to Australia at the 1975 Melbourne Worldcon. It was an initiative of Ursula Le Guin’s, and the convention committee applied for Australia Council funding. The success of this venture led to later workshops, where Turner taught with overseas writers and editors. He began by horrifying the mostly young applicants, announcing that he couldn’t make them writers, but he could make them critics. For novice writers afflicted with romantic notions of the untrammelled muse, this remark was tantamount to heresy. After a week of critiquing others’ manuscripts, and suffering the ordeal of being critiqued, its truth became self-evident. Although Turner pulled no punches, he was gentle with awkward young pups. Terry Frost, now a podcaster and ABC radio film critic, recalls Turner as having: ‘old school manners with a streak of the larrikin. He combined grumpy with gregarious better than most people and he was kind to me when he had no particular reason to be.’

Not only did the SF community give Turner respect, it also put him in a position of authority.  Artist Chris Johnston sketched Turner and workshoppers in an updated version of Da Vinci’s Last Supper, the composition including two overseas writers, Vonda McIntyre and Christopher Priest. Turner was in the centre, pride of position, as Christ. His elevation—I do not say veneration—annoyed those suffering from his critical sharp tongue, or who aspired to be top dingo of Australian SF. It was a position he did not abuse, reigning benevolently, something that can rarely be said in literary circles: no screaming self-promoter he, nor sex predator, nor self-serving canon-builder.

For writers aspiring to climate change themes, Turner proves that it is not necessary to be a scientist, nor have science training.  Bookseller Justin Ackroyd recalls that Turner would, each week, go into Space Age books, then in Swanston Street, and buy a copy of the New Scientist. From that he learnt about what the future might be. Predicting advances in technology is risky business—the internet and smartphones were hardly predicted by anyone, let alone SF authors. While his first three books of SF, known as the Ethical Trilogy, dealt with tropes such as spaceships and faster-than-light travel, for The Sea and Summer he saw that exiting this planet was unlikely, and that the future was likely to be dark.

Turner first explored the world of The Sea and Summer in a short story, not his usual medium. The title of that story, ‘The Fittest’, was a statement of intent, his concern for human survival. In the story he was unsure how that might happen, even with learning ‘ecology as naturally as speech, to find alternative sciences to conserve natural resources…’ It was rejected by a visiting US editor, Harlan Ellison, who sought stories of ‘Australia felix et mirus’ (as Turner put it in Off-Cuts), not an unglamorous dystopia. It found publication in an Australian small press anthology, Urban Fantasies.

‘The Fittest’ began with his usual approach: to set up a scenario, not realist, but a sober projection into the near future, along the lines of the classic SF extrapolation: if this goes on…  He researched rigorously before committing a word to paper. The mode can be described as social realist (even Socialist), based on his experiences of the Great Depression, with a didactic edge. George said in The Sea and Summer’s postscript that he was simply drawing attention to ‘a number of possibilities that deserve urgent thought’, lest they come to pass. The story begins in 2023 (now only six years away, though in The Sea and Summer he moved the action to the mid-century).

…I learned how the global temperature had risen a full degree Celsius in the previous forty years, that the Antarctic ice cap was melting, and that the coasts not only of Australia but of the whole world were being slowly drowned. “One day,” Dad said, “all Melbourne will vanish under sixty metres of water.” We listened politely and did not take it in. ‘One Day’ was for ever away.

Society is divided into two cultures, Sweet, who have jobs, and the Swill, unemployed, on basic benefits. They live in towers, high tenements, segregated from the wealthy. The Conway family in the story find themselves precipitated from Sweet to Swill, with the ‘superannuation’ of the father. It echoes Turner’s own family plight, and their descent in status. The autobiographic aspect of the story shows Turner harnessing a demon from his past, which gives the narrative much psychological force. Another notable feature is that he is writing about the future of his home city, Melbourne.

A tryout in short form made Turner see ‘where the initial conception has to be modified, rethought, fined down or filled out’ before it became the finished novel. He achieved a grant to write The Sea and Summer, and set to work. In the process he drew upon an admired Australian novel: M. Barnard Eldershaw’s 1943 Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow.  Many dystopias adopt the device of a frame, as with The Handmaid’s Tale, a found manuscript which is the subject of commentary from a farther future. Thus do writers warning of dark times preserve some hope for their readers. From Tomorrow Turner took the notion of a historical novel written in the future, which looks back on our imagined times. In his frame, two of these ‘Autumn people’ seek to depict the twenty-first century and its ‘Summer people’, those living through the Greenhouse effect.

The cover for The Sea and Summer and its US version (titled Drowning Towers) depict its most dramatic image: skyscrapers in seawater. It is echoed in the artwork of a 2017 novel, Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, set in a future where Gotham has become more like Venice. Robinson tells me that he has never read The Sea and Summer, though he is aware of it.

The book begins with an unusual lyricism for Turner:

The sun, high in early afternoon, sparkled on still water. There was no breeze; only the powercraft’s wake disturbed the placid bay. The pilot’s chart showed in dotted lines an old riverbed directly below his keel, but no current flowed at the surface; the Yarra now debouched some distance at the north, at the foot of the Dandenongs where the New City sheltered among hills and trees.

Underneath the Pilot’s boat is our Melbourne, with protruding only the remains of the high-rises, archaeological ruins:

When this sunken city had reached its swollen maximum of population and desperation, a thousand years before, the sun had blazed throughout the four seasons, but that time was over and would not return. The Long Summer had ended and the long winter—perhaps a hundred thousand years of it—loomed. The cold southern wind at nightfall, every nightfall, was its whisper of intent and the pilot was happy to be living now rather than earlier or later.

Winter is coming, indeed!  This opening sets up the premise of human survival, although in person Turner was more pessimistic:  he told me that technological crash would halt global warming, but that the ice age following hard upon would likely wipe out civilisation altogether. In the novel, our current worse case scenarios have been narrowly avoided:

Not all and every spire of the Old City lay beneath the bay. The melting of the Antarctic ice cap had been checked as the polluted atmosphere rebalanced its elements and the blanket of global heat dissipated; the fullest rise of the ocean level had been forestalled though not soon enough to avert disaster to the coastal cities of the planet.

The Autumn preliminary over, the book proper begins, with the narrative of ‘The Fittest’ expanded. Start and end are basically the same, though with several important differences. ‘The Fittest’ began in the voice of a boy, Francis Conway. Now the first speaker is Alison Conway, his mother, a woman depicted without rancour, as if the ghost of Ethel had finally been exorcised. She speaks throughout, interspersed with the narrations of the other characters, including her two sons, Francis and Teddy. The father loses his job, and makes a permanent exit from his family’s life, via suicide. The Conways are lucky to survive their fall, through the intercession of Billy Kovacs, a Swill Tower boss, operating effectively in the interface between crime and government. He runs a protection racket, but also is concerned with the eventual fate of the Swill. He becomes Alison’s lover.

Both Conway boys are desperate to return to the Sweet life, jettisoning their mother in the process. Teddy, the elder, joins police intelligence. Francis has a freak skill, the ability to do complex sums in his head. Through Kovacs, he finds work as a human calculator in the black economy—Turner here anticipating our current culture of electronic surveillance. But neither Conway sons can avoid the Swill altogether, as the world economy grinds down, governments become bankrupt, and shortages commonplace. In both short story and novel, cold-blooded culling of the human race occurs via genetically-engineered viruses—Turner saw it as inevitable.

What changes over the course of the novel is that Turner perceives a way out. Unlike Orwell’s Winston, who initially saw the only hope in the proles, then abandons it, the Swill grasp at a future. They have long been practicing survival of the fittest in their daily life; now Kovacs, the Conways and other ‘new men’ lead a move towards education, the learning of skills that will spell the difference in the post-Apocalyptic world. It is not just optimistic Marxism: Turner knew from experience how education, even if unconventional, could change lives.

I asked what he meant by New Men. He said they are people who do what they can instead of sitting on their arses waiting for time to roll over them. Smart bastard. So that’s why all these dreary books have to be extracted, boiled down and turned into learning texts for duplication in thousands. Stuff like farming, cloth-making, hygiene—much more ambitious than the simple home-tradesman manuals of last year. ‘A legacy for the dark years coming,’ says Billy, who is a sucker for a catchphrase. Today some activist groups are preparing for the Anthropocene in exactly this manner.

Books about the future court obsolescence. We have to read them as products of their time, imperfect mirrors, as with the 2016 film adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s Highrise, starring Tom Hiddleston. It presented a thoroughly retro 1960s future, with mothers drinking while pregnant and smoking in the presence of children. Ten years ago, anthologist Rob Gerrand and Turner’s literary executor, Bruce Gillespie, sent Penguin Books Australia a copy of The Sea and Summer, with a view to reprint.  The reader’s report, forwarded to me by Gillespie, in part read:

…many of the ideas are very topical today—global warming and over population—and we hoped that we would find the writing still fresh and commercial. But unfortunately that was not the case. Although there was never any doubt about George’s imaginative powers, or his ability to turn a phrase, we believe today’s readers would find this less than gripping.  The characters are disappointingly two-dimensional, at least by today’s standards, and the reader is given too little reason to empathise with them. Neither the ideas, the setting nor the characters were enough to hold our interest I’m afraid. While the issues remain relevant, the book has of course dated in the 20 years since it was first published. Although council estate buildings filled with the unemployed and uneducated are all too believable, a future world without at least a reference to mobile phones, personal computers or the internet is now hard to accept, particularly for the younger readers we were hoping to attract.

Every writer worth their salt has a folder of rum reader’s reports. It should be noted that similar complaints are not made about the technology in The Handmaid’s Tale or 1984:  those texts are now canonical. There is a critical disconnect between how the book is viewed overseas and here—is cultural cringe a factor, or the old division between SF and the literati? Gollancz chose it for their SF Masterworks series, the only Australian work on the list. Malcolm Edwards, head of Gollancz, commented to me that it was ‘the most canonical of George’s books’. The reprint appeared in 2013, alongside works by H. G. Wells and Douglas Adams.

The Gollancz reprint indicates continuing interest in Turner and his work, something supported by a quick wander around the web.  The Sea and Summer might be thirty years old, but it is read and discussed, in book groups and ecological forums, among others. It is still proving a divisive read.

As James Bradley has written: ‘climate change is not a subject that lends itself easily to fiction, or at least good fiction.’  The topic is huge and complex, and could defeat a contemporary Dickens—were there any modern claimant to that title. The focus on the past, or the small-scale, that has been so notable a feature of recent literary fiction, is not a helpful apprenticeship for an author contemplating global catastrophe. The SF genre itself now lags behind fantasy and horror in sales, though still a significant presence in young adult writing. Which invites the question: is the darkness of our future simply too much for adult readers?

One approach by writers is to use climate change as part of a multi-genre narrative, the boundaries between genres becoming increasingly porous. Rawson’s lively novel was set in a future Greenhouse Melbourne, but also took in time travel. Bradley structured Clade as a family saga, following their fortunes through political and ecological upheaval, to reach a future perhaps not ideal, but tolerable, credible and liveable. Robinson’s New York is a huge, exuberant creation, where serious utopian thought happily co-exists with an adventure narrative and boy’s own treasure-seeking, in a narrative that one minute seems reminiscent of Dos Passos, the next The West Wing. All of these writers approach a difficult topic differently, and succeed in different ways. None are perfect—and neither is The Sea and Summer. The definitive, blockbusting climate change novel is perhaps yet to be written, or more likely filmed, given that visual media has now far more influence than the book.

I found The Sea and Summer not necessarily easy, but rewarding the second time around. Much that my younger self missed the first time is now clear. The novel presents a compelling vision, and keeps the reader engaged. If any book is to be turned into a television screenplay about the Anthropocene, then I would argue Turner’s is a leading candidate, in its power, sheer ability to disturb, and rigorous extrapolation of trends and ideas.

Turner’s subsequent life was gladdened by the international recognition for the book. He wrote several more SF novels, well received. He had nearly completed another when in 1993 he suffered a massive stroke. His biographer Judith Buckrich found him unable to speak or feed himself. He recovered to some degree with treatment, leaning to use his left hand. I visited him in rehabilitation with several other young writers: when a row broke out between a man and his wife at the next bed, we all tried hard to maintain the appearance of chat, while busily making mental notes of the colourful insults. George moved to Ballarat, following his Scots friend Jim Dunwoodie. Adopted by the Dunwoodies, he gained a family. He died of a second major stroke on 9 June 1997.

To conclude then, with the final words of The Sea and Summer, still apposite after thirty years:

We talk of leaving a better world to our children but in fact do little more than rub along with day-to-day problems and hope that the longer-range catastrophes will never happen. Sooner or later some of them will. The Sea and Summer is about the possible cost of complacency.

Sleep well.

 

References

James Bradley, Clade (Penguin, 2015).

– “Writing on the Precipice”, Sydney Review of Books, 21 February 2017.

Judith Raphael Buckrich, George Turner: a Life (MUP, 1999).

High-Rise (motion picture) dir. Ben Wheatley, 2015

Jane Rawson, A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists (Transit Lounge, 2013).

Kim Stanley Robinson, New York 2140 (Orbit, 2017).

George Turner, “The Fittest” in Urban Fantasies, ed. King and Blackford (Ebony, 1985).

– In the Heart or In the Head (Norstrilia, 1984).

– Off-Cuts (Swancon Publications, 1986).